An air-breathing, portable thermoelectric power generator based on a microfabricated silicon combustor
Author(s)Marton, Christopher Henry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Chemical Engineering.
Klavs F. Jensen.
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The global consumer demand for portable electronic devices is increasing. The emphasis on reducing size and weight has put increased pressure on the power density of available power storage and generation options, which have been dominated by batteries. The energy densities of many hydrocarbon fuels exceed those of conventional batteries by several orders of magnitude, and this gap motivates research efforts into alternative portable power generation devices based on hydrocarbon fuels. Combustion-based power generation strategies have the potential to achieve significant advances in the energy density of a generator, and thermoelectric power generation is particularly attractive due to the moderate temperatures which are required. In this work, a portable-scale thermoelectric power generator was designed, fabricated, and tested. The basis of the system was a mesoscale silicon reactor for the combustion of butane over an alumina-supported platinum catalyst. The system was integrated with commercial bismuth telluride thermoelectric modules to produce 5.8 W of electrical power with a chemical-to-electrical conversion efficiency of 2.5% (based on lower heating value). The energy and power densities of the demonstrated system were 321 Wh/kg and 17 W/kg, respectively. The pressure drop through the system was 258 Pa for a flow of 15 liters per minute of air, and so the parasitic power requirement for air-pressurization was very low. The demonstration represents an order-of-magnitude improvement in portable-scale electrical power from thermoelectrics and hydrocarbon fuels, and a notable increase in the conversion efficiency compared with other published works. The system was also integrated with thermoelectric-mimicking heat sinks, which imitated the performance of high-heat-flux modules. The combustor provided a heat source of 206 to 362 W to the heat sinks at conditions suitable for a portable, air-breathing TE power generator. The combustor efficiency when integrated with the heat sinks was as high as 76%. Assuming a TE power conversion efficiency of 5%, the design point operation would result in thermoelectric power generation of 14 W, with an overall chemical-to-electrical conversion efficiency of 3.8%.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, February 2011.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections."February 2011." Cataloged from student submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 224-237).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Chemical Engineering.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology